While working the booth at my first bridal show to promote our Prepare/Enrich premarital program, I experienced almost everything but interest from the newly engaged attendees. After receiving an engagement ring, recruiting mom to help plan the wedding, picking out the dress, choosing bridesmaids, and tasting cakes….exploring premarital counseling was not on the list of the vast majority of brides. I received many snickers, giggles, passing laughs, and even a few crude comments:
“Boy I hope we don’t need therapy any time soon”
“Yay, let’s sign up to talk about problems with the wedding”
“Who’s going to go to therapy when they aren’t even married yet?”
I heard it all, despite many moms, aunts, and/or grandmothers encouraging the brides to at least take some information, silently knowing that marriage takes a lot of work, many quietly acknowledging that this was something that they wish they had visited at some point in their marriage.
I could tell all of these to-be-brides that participating in premarital counseling is proven to drastically lessen the chance of divorce. I could also share that premarital counseling will build the foundation needed to create a strong marriage. Above all, though, I am here to tell the to-be-married couples that premarital counseling can also give them confidence in their relationship. The confidence gained from the knowledge during premarital counseling will aid them in the many years to come.
Communication Skills for Marriage
When we are in the process of falling in love and deciding to be committed, many times we breeze over or even miss some of the important discussions like our philosophy of raising children, family financial choices, or even religious beliefs. Addressing these topics during premarital counseling allows couples to open up the discussion, giving them more opportunity for compromise and understanding. Oftentimes, couples enter into marriage with their own preconceived ideas and little knowledge of their partner’s expectations or beliefs. These preconceived notions may stem from one’s family of origin, how one is raised, or even what one has heard throughout their life.
By beginning these discussions during premarital counseling, partners are able to take a step closer to the image of what a realistic, successful, working marriage may look like for them. Each of us brings our own set of values, beliefs, and opinions into our relationship, including a set of skills – some healthy and some not so healthy. Based on our family upbringing, we may not have had a role model who demonstrated healthy communication styles. Starting a marriage off with healthy communication skills will allow your marriage to begin on the right foot. When you can identify weaknesses that may present as problems in your marriage, you have the opportunity to create a satisfying and stable relationship.
We all develop emotional history from our relationships. Premarital counseling can open the lines of communication from the very beginning, eliminating the amount of negative emotional history we build in our marriage. Couples are able to work through challenges with the healthy communication skills learned during premarital counseling.
Let’s take a look at a conversation of a couple who didn’t learn effective communication skills during premarital counseling.
Marie: I love your cooking, I wish I could have it every day…
Rick: (silence maybe with some angry grunting due to internalizing the comment as a negative)
Marie: (approached Rick for a hug or kiss after sharing with him how much she loves his cooking, thinking this was a positive comment)
Rick: (still silent, does not lean into the hug or kiss, thinking that he once again has let her down, outwardly seems agitated)
Marie: What is wrong? You seem angry.
Rick: Nothing, just forget it.
Their evening is now spent distant and in silence due to their lack of expressing their intent, needs, and emotions using assertive communication and reflective listening, which they would have learned in premarital counseling. This pattern may be repeated for the next 5-10 years within their marriage – a cycle that could have been identified and helped early on in premarital counseling.
Communication skills such as assertive communication, reflective listening, and using “I” statements can offer the couple healthy forms of interactions to begin their marriage.
Let’s see how Rick and Marie’s conversation could pan out by adding in some reflective listening, a skill taught during our premarital session…
Therapist: Go ahead Marie and share something you would like either more or less of in your relationship with Rick.
Marie: I love your cooking, so I would love more days that you do the cooking because you cook so well and it’s delicious.
Therapist: Rick, reflect back what you heard Marie say using your reflective listening skills.
Rick: What I hear you saying is that I am letting you down by not cooking enough for you and you wished I cooked more.
Therapist: Marie, did he hear you correctly? Was that what you were saying for Rick to hear?
Marie: No actually, not at all…I don’t feel you have let me down, I simply love when you cook and just would love to experience it more often.
Therapist: Go ahead Rick and let Marie know what you are hearing her say.
Rick: I am hearing you say that you would prefer for me to do more of the cooking, maybe to alleviate some of your work.
Marie: No part of me needs you to cook more often or feels disappointed, I am very pleased with how often you cook, I just was sharing with you how much I love it and only thought since I love it so much, eating your cooking more would be great!
Rick: I hear you saying that you enjoy my cooking and would love to have the chance to eat it more often.
Due to Rick’s emotional history of internalizing any requests as negative comments surrounding his abilities and actions, he had trouble hearing anything other than internalized criticism from Marie. Even when she attempted to give him a compliment, he only heard the negative. By using reflective listening, Rick and Marie were able to communicate in an insightful manner, expressing what they were actually trying to convey, versus having assumptions made and arguments started.
Investing in Your Marriage
Just as you would invest in health, car, or life insurance, premarital counseling can give you and your partner support and protection when times get difficult. Things are bound to become challenging at times during your marriage, and premarital counseling offers that investment into protecting the strength and resiliency of your relationship and marriage going forward. You will get returned to you what you have invested in your marriage, hopefully tenfold.
If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started.